It’s 2007, before teen audiences would learn that Kristen Stewart was to be their Bella Swan. There’s such outsize acclaim for her tiny role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, you’d be forgiven for thinking the former child actress was being prepped for major stardom.
While Twilight made Stewart an object of fascination, it also made her a fixture on Hollywood’s Most Hated lists. Now, she’s the ‘Best of her Generation’ — as Olivier Assayas described her after directing her to a César (the first American to win the French Oscar) for her role as an assistant to a neurotic actress in Clouds of Sils Maria.
Assayas would write Personal Shopper with Stewart in mind to star as Maureen, a young expat in Paris. Once again, she’s cast as a celeb flunky, running around upscale boutiques for her spoiled supermodel employer, Kyra.
But Maureen is more than an underling. She’s a psychic medium, in limbo in the French capital mourning her twin brother, who died from a heart defect she shares. The film opens with her alone at night in his eerie mansion, trying to reach him on the other side.
The angry spirits that appear to Maureen, scratching out her artwork, appear terrifyingly real to her.
Stewart is so believable when she mumbles about the challenges of finding portals to the other side, she’d make a decent living as a psychic if she left showbiz. From that truthful base, she even makes the name ‘Maureen’ plausible on a twentysomething.
When she’s harassed by text messages, we question whether she’s at the mercy of something more sinister than a fashionista; have ghosts made the jump-scare to the digital era, or has she got a stalker? Is this all in her head?
Viewers have come up with some overly-intricate theories, confused by the way the script decides to glide from supernatural psychological horror to whodunnit.
In the final scene, Maureen encounters a ghost who begins trying to communicate with her – one knock for yes, two for no. She asks the ghost if it’s Lewis, and it seems to say it is. She asks if it’s at peace, and the answer is ambiguous. Then she asks if it’s in her head. It knocks for yes.
Perhaps the best way to interpret it would be through this J.K. Rowling gem: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”